By Roland Li
After standing for almost 200 years, 35 Cooper Square’s fate has been sealed.
Developer Arun Bhatia will demolish the Federal-style building as part of a new development on the site, sandwiched between the gleaming Cooper Square Hotel and Cooper Union Building. (Bhatia’s ownership of the building was first reported by Real Estate Weekly.)
However, no development plan has been finalized.
“There are no plans for a building on our site at this time. All will depend on market and financial conditions in the future,” said Jane Crotty, a spokeswoman for Bhatia. “Please know that as in all of our past projects, our design will reflect our sensitivity to the historic neighborhood and its surroundings.”
Crotty previously said that any new development would be “as-of-right” and “mixed-use.” Bhatia’s past developments include seven residential towers, most recently 137-139 Wooster Street, a 16-unit condo building with retail, which Crotty noted is in the Soho historic district. Bhatia has also built dorms for the New School and Marymount Manhattan College.
The Local East Village first reported the decision to demolish, citing a letter to City council member Rosie Mendez from Bhatia’s attorney, Stephen Lefkowitz. He wrote that development would not be feasible with 35 Cooper Square intact, because of the small size of the lot, even with a zoning variance.
Lefkowitz wrote that Bhatia would also make a donation to the Landmarks Conservancy to document Federal-style buildings.
Bhatia had previously met with local residents and preservationists on April 12, but made no commitments to preserve the building, with his team describing the site as “difficult.”
According to Massey Knakal, which sold the site to Bhatia for $8.5 million in November, the 4,833 s/f lot has 28,998 buildable s/f. According to PropertyShark, the existing structure at 35 Cooper Square occupies 1,920 s/f of the lot. The area is zoned for commercial use, permitting hotels, entertainment facilities and high-rise residential with commercial elements.
Preservationists are disappointed by the decision.
“First, it is a shame that this rare surviving gem of a building will not be preserved. Both the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Mr. Bhatia deserve the blame for that – the LPC for failing to do its job to protect the architectural and historic legacy of New York City, and Mr. Bhatia for failing to do the right thing and preserve the building while developing the remainder of his three lots,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
“Secondly, Mr. Bhatia unfortunately failed to keep his word – when we met, he committed to get back to us with a more detailed response as to what the fiscal or practical challenges would be to preserving the building in whole or in part and building around it,” said Berman. He added that Bhatia failed to provide more details on why 35 Cooper Square could not be preserved.
Crotty, the Bhatia spokeswoman, who also attended the meeting, said that the developer had committed to re-examine the site with his architects, and they would let Councilmember Mendez know if they wanted further engagement.
The LPC declined to consider 35 Cooper Square for landmarking, citing the stucco-covered façade. However, the agency is considering an expansion of the East Village historic district, although that does not include the east side of Cooper Square and the Bowery. A spokeswoman for the LPC said the boundaries were chosen to encompass the highest concentration of buildings that represent the 19th century immigrant experience. The LPC will present the district to Community Board 3 on May 12th.
Ultimately, 35 Cooper may be remembered as the little building that galvanized the neighborhood, becoming a symbol, for preservationists, of history assaulted by the forces of development. It remains to be seen what will rise in its place.